Be still, sad soul! lift thou no passionate cry,
But spread the desert of thy being bare
To the full searching of the All-seeing eye;
Wait! and through dark misgiving, black despair,
God will come down in pity, and fill the dry
Dead place with light, and life, and vernal air.
–J. C. Shairp
They shall mount up with wings as eagles (Isaiah 40:31).
There is a fable about the way the birds got their wings at the beginning. They were first made without wings. Then God made the wings and put them down before the wingless birds and said to them, “Come, take up these burdens and bear them.”
The birds had lovely plumage and sweet voices; they could sing, and their feathers gleamed in the sunshine, but they could not soar in the air. They hesitated at first when bidden to take up the burdens that lay at their feet, but soon they obeyed, and taking up the wings in their beaks, laid them on their shoulders to carry them.
For a little while the load seemed heavy and hard to bear, but presently, as they went on carrying the burdens, folding them over their hearts, the wings grew fast to their little bodies, and soon they discovered how to use them, and were lifted by them up into the air — the weights became wings.
It is a parable. We are the wingless birds, and our duties and tasks are the pinions God has made to lift us up and carry us heavenward. We look at our burdens and heavy loads, and shrink from them; but as we lift them and bind them about our hearts, they become wings, and on them we rise and soar toward God.
There is no burden which, if we lift it cheerfully and bear it with love in our hearts, will not become a blessing to us. God means our tasks to be our helpers; to refuse to bend our shoulders to receive a load, is to decline a new opportunity for growth. –J. R. Miller
(J. R. Miller, “Unfinished Life-building”)
“This fellow began to build—and was not able to finish!” Luke 14:30
We are all builders. We may not erect any house or temple on a city street for human eyes to see—but every one of us builds an edifice which God sees!
Life is a building. It rises slowly, day by day, through the years. Every new lesson we learn, lays another block on the edifice which is rising silently within us.
every touch of another life on ours,
every influence that impresses us,
every book we read,
every conversation we have,
every act in our commonest days—
adds something to our invisible building.
All of life furnishes the materials which add to our life-wall.
Many people build noble character structures in this world. But there are also many who build only base, shabby huts, without beauty—which will be swept away in the testing fires of judgment!
There are many, too, whose life-work presents the sorry spectacle of an unfinished building. There was a beautiful plan to begin with, and the work was promising for a little time—but after a while it was abandoned and left standing, with walls halfway up—a useless fragment, open and exposed, an incomplete inglorious ruin—telling no story of past splendor—as do the ruins of some old castle or coliseum—a monument only of folly and failure!
Sin in some form draws many a builder away from his work—to leave it unfinished.
It may be the world’s fascinations, which lure him from Christ’s side.
It may be evil companions, which tempt him from loyal friendship to the Savior.
It may be riches, which enter his heart and blind his eyes to the attractions of heaven.
It may be some secret debasing lust, which gains power over him and paralyzes his spiritual life.
Many are those now amid the world’s throngs—who once sat at the Lord’s Table and were among God’s people! Their lives are unfinished buildings, towers begun with great enthusiasm—and then left to tell their sad story of failure to all who pass by. They began to build—and were not able to finish.
It is sad to think how much of this unfinished work, God sees as He looks down upon our earth. Think of the good beginnings which never came to anything in the end. Think of the excellent resolutions which are never carried out. Think of the noble life-plans entered upon by so many young people with ardent enthusiasm—but soon given up. Think of the beautiful visions and high hopes which might have been splendid realities—but which have faded out, with not even one earnest attempt to work them into life!
In all aspects of life—we see these abandoned buildings. Many homes present the spectacle of abandoned dreams of love. For a time, the beautiful vision shone—and two hearts tried to make it come true—but they gave their dream up in despair, either enduring in misery—or going their own sad and separate ways.
So life everywhere is full of beginnings, which are never carried on to completion.
There is . . .
not a soul-wreck on the streets,
not a prisoner serving out a sentence behind prison bars,
not a debased, fallen person anywhere—
in whose soul, there were not once visions of beauty, high hopes, holy thoughts and purposes, and high resolves of an ideal of something lovely and noble. But alas! the visions, the hopes, the purposes, the resolves—never grew into more than beginnings. God bends down and sees a great wilderness of unfinished buildings, bright possibilities unfulfilled, noble might-have-beens abandoned; ghastly ruins now, sad memorials only of failure!
The lesson from all this, is that we should . . .
finish our work,
allow nothing to draw us away from our duty,
never become weary in following Christ,
persevere from the beginning of our ideals—steadfast unto the end.
We should not falter under any burden, in the face of any danger, before any demand of cost or sacrifice.
no worldly attraction,
should weaken for one moment our determination to be faithful unto death! No one who has begun to build for Christ—should leave an unfinished, abandoned life-work, to his own eternal grief!
“This fellow began to build—and was not able to finish!” Luke 14:30
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This is a repost of an article I originally shared in 2011. I came across it today and it had, like so many stories about conversions and testimonies all new meaning. I think it’s such an amazing story of obedience in the hardest of times, and how even though our bodies die, through the shed blood of Christ we not only live on….the seeds we plant keep bringing new life. Like my answer to a comment from a friend below “The Russian doctor is still bearing fruit”. May our lives do the same.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
It is not what we do that matters, but what a Sovereign God chooses to do through us that matters.
I had great plans for my Saturday off his past week. Having spent time on vacation, this was my first week back into the “Daily Grind” of the office and I looked forward to a Saturday filled with hiking and time spent outdoors. Instead I woke up sick and spent most of my morning trying to just get moving. Eventually I felt good enough to shake off my dissapointment and run some errands. Along the way I came across a thrift shop and decided to run in for a minute. Often the books are a mish mash of outdated owners manuals or old paperback romance novels, but there is an occasional gem once in a while. I picked up a fifty cent book “Loving God” by Chuck Colson and headed home. Not being a big fan of Colson, I hesitated buying it, but upon further inspection I decided to post Chapter 2. ” The Russian Doctor” in it’s entirety. Our obedience to God matters greatly, and the story of Boris Kornfeld should be told again and again. Be blessed dear reader.
Kornfeld was a medical doctor. From this we can guess a little about his background, for in post-revolutionary Russia such education never went to families tied in any way to czarist Russia. Probably his parents were socialists who had fastened their hopes on the Revolution. They were also Jews, but almost certainly not Jews still hoping for the Messiah, for the name Boris and the patronymic Nicholayevich indicate they had taken Russian names in some past generation. Probably Kornfeld’s forebears were Haskalah so-called “enlightened Jews,” who accepted the philosophy of rationalism, cultivated a knowledge of the natural sciences, and devoted themselves to the arts. In language, dress, and social habits they tried to make themselves as much like their Russian neighbors as possible.
It was natural for such Jews to support Lenin’s revolution, for the czars’ vicious anti-Semitism had made life almost unendurable for the prior two hundred years. Socialism promised something much better for them than “Christian” Russia. “Christian” Russia had slaughtered Jews; perhaps atheistic Russia would save them.
Obviously Kornfeld had followed in his parents’ footsteps, believing in Communism as the path of historical necessity, for political prisoners at that time were not citizens opposed to Communism or wanting the Czar’s return. Such people were simply shot. Political prisoners were believers in the Revolution, socialists or communists who had, nevertheless, not kept their allegiance to Stalin’s leadership pure.
We do not know what crime Dr. Kornfeld committed, only that it was a political crime. Perhaps he dared one day to suggest to a friend that their leader, Stalin, was fallible; or maybe he was simply accused of harboring such thoughts. It took no more than that to become a prisoner in the Russia of the early 1950s; many died for less. At any rate, Kornfeld was imprisoned in a concentration camp for political subversives at Ekibastuz.
Ironically, a few years behind barbed wire was a good cure for Communism. The senseless brutality, the waste of lives, the trivialities called criminal charges made men like Kornfeld doubt the glories of the system. Stripped of all past associations, of all that had kept them busy and secure, behind the wire prisoners had time to think. In such a place, thoughtful men like Boris Kornfeld found themselves re-evaluating beliefs they had held since childhood.
So it was that this Russian doctor abandoned all his socialistic ideals. In fact, he went further than that. He did something that would have horrified his forebears.
Boris Kornfeld became a Christian.
While few Jews anywhere in the world find it easy to accept Jesus Christ as the true Messiah, a Russian Jew would find it even more difficult. For two centuries these Jews had known implacable hatred from the people who, they were told, were the most Christian of all. Each move the Jews made to reconcile themselves or accommodate themselves to the Russians was met by new inventions of hatred and persecution, as when the head of the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church said he hoped that, as a result of the Russian pogroms, “one-third of the Jews will convert one-third will die, and one-third will flee the country.”
Yet following the Revolution a strange alignment occurred. Joseph Stalin demanded undivided, unquestioning loyalty to his government; but both Jews and Christians knew their ultimate loyalty was to God. Consequently people of both faiths suffered for their beliefs and frequently in the same camps.
Thus it was that Boris Kornfeld came in contact with a devout Christian, a well-educated and kind fellow prisoner who spoke of a Jewish Messiah who had come to keep the promises the Lord had made to Israel. This Christian—whose name we do not know—pointed out that Jesus had spoken almost solely to Jewish people and proclaimed that He came to the Jews first. That was consistent with God’s special concern for the Jew, the chosen ones; and, he explained, the Bible promised that a new kingdom of peace would come. This man often recited aloud the Lord’s Prayer, and Kornfeld heard in those simple words a strange ring of truth.
The camp had stripped Kornfeld of everything, including his belief in salvation through socialism. Now this man offered him hope—but in what a form!
To accept Jesus Christ—to become one of those who had always persecuted his people—seemed a betrayal of his family, of all who had been before him Kornfeld knew the Jews had suffered innocently. Jews were innocent in the days of the Cossacks! Innocent in the days of the czars! And he himself was innocent of betraying Stalin; he had been imprisoned unjustly.
But Kornfeld pondered what the Christian prisoner had told him. In one commodity, time, the doctor was rich.
Unexpectedly, he began to see the powerful parallels between the Jews and this Jesus. It had always been a scandal that God should entrust Himself in a unique way to one people, the Jews. Despite centuries of persecution, their very existence in the midst of those who sought to destroy them was a sign of a Power greater than that of their oppressors. It was the same with Jesus—that God would present Himself in the form of a man had always confounded the wisdom of the world. To the proud and powerful, Jesus stood as a Sign, exposing their own limitations and sin. So they had to kill Him, just as those in power had to kill the Jews, in order to maintain their delusions of omnipotence. Thus, Stalin, the new god-head of the brave new world of the Revolution, had to persecute both Jew and Christian. Each stood as living proof of his blasphemous pretensions to power.
Only in the gulag could Boris Kornfeld begin to see such a truth. And the more he reflected upon it, the more it began to change him within.
Though a prisoner, Kornfeld lived in better conditions than most behind the wire. Other prisoners were expendable, but doctors were scarce in the remote, isolated camps. The authorities could not afford to lose a physician, for guards as well as prisoners needed medical attention. And no prison officer wanted to end up in the hands of a doctor he had cruelly abused.
Kornfeld’s resistance to the Christian message might have begun to weaken while he was in surgery, perhaps while working on one of those guards he had learned to loathe. The man had been knifed and an artery cut. While suturing the blood vessel, the doctor thought of tying the thread in such a way that it would reopen shortly after surgery. The guard would die quickly and no one would be the wiser.
The process of taking this particular form of vengeance gave rein to the burning hatred Kornfeld had for the guard and all like him. How he despised his persecutors! He could gladly slaughter them all!
And at that point, Boris Kornfeld became appalled by the hatred and violence he saw in his own heart. Yes, he was a victim of hatred as his ancestors had been. But that hatred had spawned an insatiable hatred of his own. What a deadly predicament! He was trapped by the very evil he despised. What freedom could he ever know with his soul imprisoned by this murderous hate? It made the whole world a concentration camp.
As Kornfeld began to retie the sutures properly, he found himself, almost unconsciously, repeating the words he had heard from his fellow prisoner. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Strange words in the mouth of a Jew. Yet he could not help praying them. Having seen his own evil heart, he had to pray for cleansing. And he had to pray to a God who had suffered, as he had: Jesus.
For some time, Boris Kornfeld simply continued praying the Lord’s Prayer while he carried out his backbreaking, hopeless tasks as a camp doctor. Backbreaking because there were always far too many patients. Hopeless because the camp was designed to kill men. He stood ineffectively against the tide of death gaining on each prisoner: disease, cold, overwork, beatings, malnutrition.
Doctors in the camp’s medical section were also asked to sign decrees for imprisonment in the punishment block. Any prisoner whom the authorities did not like or wanted out of the way was sent to this block—solitary confinement in a tiny, dark, cold, torture chamber of a cell. A doctor’s signature on the forms certified that a prisoner was strong and healthy enough to withstand the punishment. This was, of course, a lie. Few emerged alive.
Like all the other doctors, Kornfeld had signed his share of forms. What was the difference? The authorities did not need the signatures anyway; they had many other ways of “legalizing” punishment. And a doctor who did not cooperate would not last long, even though doctors were scarce. But shortly after he began to pray for forgiveness, Dr. Kornfeld stopped authorizing the punishment; he refused to sign the forms. Though he had signed hundreds of them, now he couldn’t. Whatever had happened inside him would not permit him to do it.
This rebellion was bad enough, but Kornfeld did not stop there. He turned in an orderly.
The orderlies were drawn from a group of prisoners who cooperated with the authorities. As a reward for their cooperation, they were given jobs within the camp which were less than a death sentence. They became the cooks, bakers, clerks, and hospital orderlies. The other prisoners hated them almost more than they hated the guards, for these prisoners were traitors; they could never be trusted. They stole food from the other prisoners and would gladly kill anyone who tried to report them or give them trouble. Besides, the guards turned a blind eye to their abuses of power. People died in the camps every day; the authorities needed these quislings to keep the system running smoothly.
While making his rounds one day, Kornfeld came to one of his many patients suffering from pellagra, an all-too-common disease in the camps. Malnutrition induced pellagra which, perversely, made digestion nearly impossible. Victims literally starved to death.
This man’s body showed the ravages of the disease. His face had become dark, one deep bruise. The skin was peeling off his hands; they had to be bandaged to staunch the incessant bleeding. Kornfeld had been giving the patient chalk, good white bread, and herring to stop the diarrhea and get nutrients into his blood, but the man was too far gone. When the doctor asked the dying patient his name, the man could not even remember it.
Just after leaving this patient, Kornfeld came upon a hulking orderly bent over the remains of a loaf of white bread meant for the pellagra patients. The man looked up shamelessly, his cheeks stuffed with food. Kornfeld had known about the stealing, had known it was one reason his patients did not recover, but his vivid memory of the dying man pierced him now. He could not shrug his shoulders and go on.
Of course he could not blame the deaths simply on the theft of food. There were countless other reasons why his patients did not recover. The hospital sttank of excrement and lacked proper facilities and supplies. He had to perform surgery under conditions so primitive that often operations were little more than mercy killings. It was preposterous to stand on principle in the situation, particularly when he knew what the orderly might do to him in return. But the doctor had to be obedient to what he now believed. Once again the change in his life was making a difference.
When Kornfeld reported the orderly to the commandant, the officer found his complaint very curious. There had been a recent rash of murders in the camp; each victim had been a “stoolie.” It was foolish—dangerously so at this time—to complain about anyone. But the commandant put the orderly in the punishment block for three days, taking the complaint with a perverse satisfaction. Kornfeld’s refusal to sign the punishment forms was becoming a nuisance; this would save the commandant some trouble. The doctor had arranged his own execution.
Boris Kornfeld was not an especially brave man. He knew his life would be in danger as soon as the orderly was released from the cell block. Sleeping in the barracks, controlled at night by the camp-chosen prisoners, would mean certain death. So the doctor began staying in the hospital, catching sleep when and where he could, living in a strange twilight world where any moment might be his last.
But, paradoxically, along with this anxiety came tremendous freedom. Having accepted the possibility of death, Boris Kornfeld was now free to live. He signed no more papers or documents sending men to their deaths. He no longer turned his eyes from cruelty or shrugged his shoulders when he saw injustice. He said what he wanted and did what he could. And soon he realized that the anger and hatred and violence in his own soul had vanished. He wondered whether there lived another man in Russia who knew such freedom!
Now Boris Kornfeld wanted to tell someone about his discovery, about this new life of obedience and freedom. The Christian who had talked to him about Jesus had been transferred to another camp, so the doctor waited for the right person and the right moment.
One gray afternoon he examined a patient who had just been operated on for cancer of the intestines. This young man with a melon-shaped head and a hurt, little-boy expression touched the soul of the doctor. The man’s eyes were sorrowful and suspicious and his face deeply etched by the years he had already spent in the camps, reflecting a depth of spiritual misery and emptiness Kornfeld had rarely seen.
So the doctor began to talk to the patient, describing what had happened to him. Once the tale began to spill out, Kornfeld could not stop.
The patient missed the first part of the story, for he was drifting in and out of the anesthesia’s influence, but the doctor’s ardor caught his concentration and held it, though he was shaking with fever. All through the afternoon and late into the night, the doctor talked, describing his conversion to Christ and his new-found freedom.
Very late, with the perimeter lights in the camp glazing the windowpanes, Kornfeld confessed to the patient: “On the whole, you know, I have become convinced that there is no punishment that comes to us in this life on earth which is undeserved. Superficially, it can have nothing to do with what we are guilty of in actual fact, but if you go over your life with a fine-tooth comb and ponder it deeply, you will always be able to hunt down that transgression of yours for which you have now received this blow.”
Imagine! The persecuted Jew who once believed himself totally innocent now saying that every man deserved his suffering, whatever it was.
The patient knew he was listening to an incredible confession. Though the pain from his operation was severe, his stomach a heavy, expansive agony of molten lead, he hung on the doctor’s words until he fell asleep.
The young patient awoke early the next morning to the sound of running feet and a commotion in the area of the operating room. His first thought was of the doctor, but his new friend did not come. Then the whispers of a fellow patient told him of Kornfeld’s fate.
During the night, while the doctor slept, someone had crept up beside him and dealt him eight blows on the head with a plasterer’s mallet. And though his fellow doctors worked valiantly to save him, in the morning the orderlies carried him out, a still, broken form.
But Kornfeld’s testimony did not die.
The patient pondered the doctor’s last, impassioned words. As a result, he, too, became a Christian. He survived that prison camp and went on to tell the world what he had learned there.
The patient’s name was Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
An Exerpt from Chapter 2 on True Obedience:
“Boris Kornfield is the great paradox personified. a Jew who betrayed the faith of his fathers. a doctor whose years of training were senselessly wasted. A political idealist whose utopian vision led only to a barren siberian prison. in every one of these areas, Boris Kornfield was a failure – atleast in the world’s system of values. yet God took that failure of a man and through his singleminded obedience used him to lead to Christ another who would go on to become a prophetic voice and one of the world’s most influential writers for Kornield’s words did their convincing, convicting work, touching what Solzhenitsyn (Kornfield’s friend who turn to Jesus) referred to as “a sensitive chord.” That was [Solzhenitsyn’s] moment of spiritual awakening: ‘God of the universe, I believe You again! though i renounced you, you will be with me,’ he cried out. it was a spiritual transfusion – life taken from one man and pumped into another for God’s sovereign purpose. and in his conversion Solzhenitsyn saw clearly the kingdom paradox. for in the emptiness of that Russian gulag, he perceived what pleasure-seeking millions in the abundance of Western life cannot. He wrote later, ‘the meaning of earthly existence lies, not as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul.’ Kornfield’s brief Christian life was lived in circumscribed circumstances, almost in isolation. In many ways it would seem that his decision not to sign the medical forms (that would kill hundreds of citizens), his reporting of the corrupt prison guard, even his few hours of testimony to a perhaps terminally ill patient were futile, would gain him nothing but that which came in the end – a brutal death at the hands of his captors. yet Kornfield’s faith was strong, sure, and sincere. and somehow his fellow Christian (Solzhenitsyn) and the Holy Spirit had communicated one fact to him: what God demanded of him was obedience, no matter what. single minded obedience in faith. and that lesson of the russian doctor’s life was my lesson at delaware: what God wants from His people is obedience, no matter the circumstances, no matter how unknown the outcome. it has always been this way. God calling his people to obedience and giving them – at best- a glimpse of the outcome of their effort…we might think of this divine pattern as cruel, but i am convinced that there is a sovereign wisdom to it. knowing how susceptible we are to success’s siren call, God does not allow us to see, and therefore glory in, what is done through us. the very nature of the obedience He demands is that it be given without regard to circumstances or results… So obedience is the key to real faith – the unshakable kind of faith so powerfully illustrated by Job’s life. Job lost his home, his family (except for a nagging wife), his health, even his hope. the advice friends was no help. no matter where he turned, he could find no answers to his plight. eventually he stood alone. But though it appeared God had abandoned him, Job clung to the assurance that God is who he says he is.. Job confirmed his obedience with those classic words of faith: ‘though he slay me, yet will i trust in him’ This is real faith: believing and acting obediently regardless of circumstances or contrary evidence. after all, if faith depended on visible evidence, it wouldn’t be faith…. it is absurd to constantly seek new demonstrations of God’s power, to expect a miraculous answer to every need, from curing ingrown toenails to finding parking spaces; this only leads to faith in miracles rather that the Maker [of miracles]. true faith depends not upon mysterious signs, celestial fireworks, or grandiose dispensations from a God who is seen as a rich, benevolent uncle; true faith, as Job understood, rests on the assurance that God is who he says he is.
I am bound to speak well of my Physician—He treats me with great tenderness, and bids me in due time to expect a perfect cure. I know too much of Him (though I know but little) to doubt either His skill or His promise.
It is true, I have suffered sad relapses since I have been under His care. Yet I confess, that the fault has not been His—but my own! I am a perverse and unruly patient! I have too often neglected His prescriptions, and broken the regimen He appoints me to observe. This perverseness, joined to the exceeding obstinacy of my disorders, would have caused me to be turned out as an incurable long ago—had I been under any other hand but His! Indeed—there is none like Him! When I have brought myself very low—He has still helped me. Blessed be His name—I am yet kept alive only by means of His perfect care.
Though His medicines are all beneficial—they are not all pleasant. Now and then He gives me a pleasant cordial; but I have many severe disorders, in which there is a needs-be for my frequently taking His bitter and unpalatable medicines!
We sometimes see published in the newspapers, acknowledgments of cures received. Methinks, if I were to publish my own case, that it would run something like this:
“I, John Newton, have long labored under a multitude of grievous disorders:
a fever of ungoverned passions,
a cancer of pride,
a frenzy of wild imaginations,
a severe lethargy, and
a deadly stroke!
In this deplorable situation, I suffered many things from many physicians, spent every penny I had—yet only grew worse and worse!
In this condition, Jesus, the Physician of souls, found me when I sought Him not. He undertook my recovery freely, without money and without price—these are His terms with all His patients! My fever is now abated, my senses are restored, my faculties are enlivened! In a word, I am a new man! And from His ability, His promise, and the experience of what He has already done—I have the fullest assurance that He will infallibly and perfectly heal me—and that I shall live forever as a monument of His power and grace!”
If Job could have known as he sat there in the ashes, bruising his heart on this problem of Providence—that in the trouble that had come upon him he was doing what one man may do to work out the problem for the world, he might again have taken courage. No man lives to himself. Job’s life is but your life and mine written in larger text….So, then, though we may not know what trials wait on any of us, we can believe that, as the days in which Job wrestled with his dark maladies are the only days that make him worth remembrance, and but for which his name had never been written in the book of life, so the days through which we struggle, finding no way, but never losing the light, will be the most significant we are called to live.
Who does not know that our most sorrowful days have been amongst our best? When the face is wreathed in smiles and we trip lightly over meadows bespangled with spring flowers, the heart is often running to waste.
The soul which is always blithe and gay misses the deepest life. It has its reward, and it is satisfied to its measure, though that measure is a very scanty one. But the heart is dwarfed; and the nature, which is capable of the highest heights, the deepest depths, is undeveloped; and life presently burns down to its socket without having known the resonance of the deepest chords of joy.
“Blessed are they that mourn.” Stars shine brightest in the long dark night of winter. The gentians show their fairest bloom amid almost inaccessible heights of snow and ice.
God’s promises seem to wait for the pressure of pain to trample out their richest juice as in a wine-press. Only those who have sorrowed know how tender is the “Man of Sorrows.”
Thou hast but little sunshine, but thy long glooms are wisely appointed thee; for perhaps a stretch of summer weather would have made thee as a parched land and barren wilderness. Thy Lord knows best, and He has the clouds and the sun at His disposal.
“It is a gray day.” “Yes, but dinna ye see the patch of blue?”
As “fair flowers bloom upon rough stalks,” so many of the fairest flowers of human life, grow upon the rough stalks of suffering.
(J. R. Miller, “The Beatitude for the Unsuccessful” 1892)
“The Lord is near the broken-hearted.” Psalm 34:18
The God of the Bible, is the God of the broken-hearted. The world cares little for the broken hearts. Indeed, people oftentimes break hearts by their cruelty, their falseness, their injustice, their coldness–and then move on as heedlessly as if they had trodden only on a worm! But God cares. Broken-heartedness attracts Him. The plaint of grief on earth–draws Him down from heaven.
Physicians in their rounds, do not stop at the homes of the well–but of the sick. So it is with God in His movements through this world. It is not to the whole and the well–but to the wounded and stricken, that He comes with sweetest tenderness! Jesus said of His mission: “He has sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted.” Isaiah 61:1
We look upon trouble as misfortune. We say that the life is being destroyed, which is passing through adversity. But the truth which we find in the Bible, does not so represent suffering. God is a repairer and restorer of the hurt and ruined life. He takes the bruised reed–and by His gentle skill makes it whole again, until it grows into fairest beauty. The love, pity, and grace of God, minister sweet blessing of comfort and healing–to restore the broken and wounded hearts of His people.
Much of the most beautiful life in this world, comes out of sorrow. As “fair flowers bloom upon rough stalks,” so many of the fairest flowers of human life, grow upon the rough stalks of suffering. We see that those who in heaven wear the whitest robes, and sing the loudest songs of victory–are those who have come out of great tribulation. Heaven’s highest places are filling, not from earth’s homes of glad festivity and tearless joy–but from its chambers of pain; its valleys of struggle where the battle is hard; and its scenes of sorrow, where pale cheeks are wet with tears, and where hearts are broken. The God of the Bible–is the God of the bowed down–whom He lifts up into His strength.
God is the God of those who fail. Not that He loves those who stumble and fall, better than those who walk erect without stumbling; but He helps them more. The weak believers get more of His grace–than those who are strong believers. There is a special divine promise, which says, “My divine power is made perfect in weakness.” When we are conscious of our own insufficiency, then we are ready to receive of the divine sufficiency. Thus our very weakness is an element of strength. Our weakness is an empty cup–which God fills with His own strength.
You may think that your weakness unfits you for noble, strong, beautiful living–or for sweet, gentle, helpful serving. You wish you could get clear of it. It seems to burden you–an ugly spiritual deformity. But really it is something which–if you give it to Christ–He can transform into a blessing, a source of His power. The friend by your side, whom you envy because he seems so much stronger than you are–does not get so much of Christ’s strength as you do. You are weaker than him–but your weakness draws to you divine power, and makes you strong.
“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
The pressure of hard places makes us value life. Every time our life is given back to us from such a trial, it is like a new beginning, and we learn better how much it is worth, and make more of it for God and man. The pressure helps us to understand the trials of others, and fits us to help and sympathize with them.
There is a shallow, superficial nature, that gets hold of a theory or a promise lightly, and talks very glibly about the distrust of those who shrink from every trial; but the man or woman who has suffered much never does this, but is very tender and gentle, and knows what suffering really means. This is what Paul meant when he said, “Death worketh in you.”
Trials and hard places are needed to press us forward, even as the furnace fires in the hold of that mighty ship give force that moves the piston, drives the engine, and propels that great vessel across the sea in the face of the winds and waves.
–A. B. Simpson
James Smith, 1860
The Lord having chosen his people for himself — will bring them to know him, confide in him, and love him. So, when they have backslidden and wandered from him — he will employ means, that his banished ones be not expelled from him. Thus he brought Israel out of Egypt, and consecrated them to himself; and thus he led them out of Babylon, and again set them apart for his praise. These things were types, and show unto us, how the Lord deals with his people now, both at their first conversion, and at their restoration afterwards. How striking are the words of the Lord by his servant Hosea, on this point, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably to her;” or as the margin reads, “I will speak to her heart.” Hosea 2:14. What will the Lord do?
“I will allure her.” The eye and the heart of God, are upon his people — before they know it, and when they little think of it. He loves them with an everlasting love — therefore, he will draw, or allure them. He will draw them from their . . .
vain pursuits, and
He will secretly persuade them . . .
by a divine operation upon their minds;
or by disappointments, vexations, convictions, distress of soul, and bereavements;
or by discoveries of his glorious grace, the blessedness of his people, or the felicity of Heaven
— to leave the pleasures and pursuits that are carnal — and seek for himself, and spiritual things. He will entice her, or draw her, by the revelation, and exhibition, of Jesus — in his glory, beauty, and exact adaptation to her.
“I will bring her into the wilderness.” Not an uninhabited spot — but what is elsewhere called “the wilderness of the people.” So, that though surrounded by society, the soul feels ALONE — it has an inward persuasion, that it is an isolated being. The allured soul feels that no one is like it — no one ever had such feelings, such fears, such corruptions, such temptations, such doubts. Therefore as Jeremiah says, “Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust — there may yet be hope.”
The believer, like a person in a wilderness, has a painful sense of BARRENNESS. Beneath, there is no green and pleasant verdure — but scorching sands; above, no shower bearing clouds — but a burning sky. All is barren, and tends to barrenness. So the soul finds it — the means of grace are barren; prayer, preaching, and conversation, all are barren. Even the Bible appears to be a barren book.
So the man feels exposed to DANGER — danger from Satan, sin, the world, and death. Danger from the law, and danger even from Christian friends.
There is also a painful sense of DESTITUTION, and the man becomes wearied, bewildered, and exhausted.
This wilderness is a place of INSTRUCTION, here the soul learns many a painful — but important lesson. Here it learns dependence on God, the emptiness and insufficiency of the creature, and the need of a divine agency to carry on the work. It learns that there is no bread but from Heaven, and what comes down appears to be small and unusual; so that with Israel, as we gather and feed on it, we are ready to cry, “Manna,” what is it? what is it?
Here God works wonders, in preserving, supplying, correcting, restoring, and guiding. Here the bridegroom finds his bride, raises her to his side, allows her to lean upon him, holds secret, soul-sustaining communion with her, and conducts her to the promised land.
“I will speak to her heart.”
He speaks a divorce from all creatures — that we may enjoy union to, and find happiness in himself alone.
He calls us away from centering in self — to fix our faith and affections on himself.
He speaks, so as to prevail with us to leave all others, and give ourselves up . . .
to be ruled by his will,
to feed at his table, and
to be satisfied with his goodness.
He speaks comfort, and speaks comfortably to us. By a Barnabas, or by the Comforter — he speaks, and, brings home a word of promise to the heart. This encourages faith, emboldens hope, and persuades the soul to close in with Christ. Or some sweet word flows into the mind, assuring us that he . . .
has pardoned our sins,
will take us as his own,
will guide us by his counsel, and
afterwards receive us to glory.
Reader, has the Lord ever allured you, and drawn you away into a wilderness, revealing himself to you? Has he ever spoken to your heart, words of peace and love? Jesus spoke to the heart of the poor woman, when he said, “Your sins, which are many, are all forgiven,” and to the poor man, when he said, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” Such pleasant words are as a honeycomb — sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. Such good words will make the heart glad.
We must be weaned from the world, from the creatures, and be brought into secret, heart-affecting, soul transforming communion with God. We must therefore find the world a wilderness, a desert, a land of drought. We must turn from man to God, and in God as revealed in Jesus, find a friend that loves at all times, and be able to say, with the apostle, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
When the Lord has allured, and drawn his people away from all other to himself, when they have found it good to be alone with God, and when he has comforted their hearts — then he bestows upon them great and precious blessings. Thus the prophet represented the Lord as speaking, “There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor (trouble) — a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of he youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.” Hosea. 2:15.
“I will give her back her vineyards.” I will not only speak — but give. Vineyards were valuable property, delightful possessions; so the Lord will not only give enough for our subsistence — but abundance. Not only tastes of Canaan — but Canaan itself. That is, all the privileges and comforts of the gospel, which are like these gifts, proofs of reconciliation, and fruits of love. I will give her back her vineyards from thence. From that time, when I have brought her to be mine, only mine. From that place, the wilderness — where all was barren and unpromising. From that condition of loneliness and isolation. Vineyards from wildernesses.
“I will make the Valley of Achor (trouble) — a door of hope.” This valley was naturally pleasant and secure. It took its name from Achor, who by his covetousness and theft, here troubled Israel. It means the valley of trouble, and this, says the Lord, shall be a door of hope. Trouble is often the means of good. Sanctified trouble always ends well. Achor was the first part of Canaan, which Israel possessed; trouble accompanied their entrance into the land. So often trouble attends the first joys of salvation; our first entrance into promised rest. But at the end of afflictions, stands the door of hope.
This door lets out our desires to God, and lets in covenant mercies from God. It keeps out many and great evils — as gloom, despondency, and despair. And it lets out God’s saints into liberty, peace, union, possessions, and honors. In Joseph’s prison — was a door of hope, through which he passed to be lord over all the land of Egypt. In Daniel’s den of lions — was a door of hope which admitted him to the highest place in the kingdom. In the experience of David, many and varied as his troubles and afflictions were, there was a door of hope, which introduced him to the promised throne, and made him king over all Israel. So in your experience, believer, you have always found a door of hope at the end of your conflicts, trials, and troubles, through which, when you least expected it, you passed into the enjoyment of peace and liberty.
Our present mercies, are doors to admit us to new and greater mercies. The door may appear shut, all may seem dark and distressing — but Jesus carries the key, and will open the door, and introduce us to deliverance, just at the best moment. His key will open the most difficult lock with ease, and throw open the strongest door at his pleasure.
The Lord will not only give us vineyards, and set before us a door of hope — but he will give us mirth; “There she will sing.”
Sing, where? At the door of hope, in the vineyards he gives us.
Sing, why? On account of our obtaining our freedom, and such glorious possessions.”
Sing, how? As Israel did at the Red Sea, when Miriam took a timbrel, and all the women went after her in dances, singing, “Sing unto the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously.”
Sing, for what? For wonders wrought, for faithfulness proved, for obedience crowned.
She shall be humbled there, as rich displays of grace always humble us. She shall answer there, as the people of old did saying, “All that the Lord has spoken to us — will we do.” Signal deliverances lead to cheerful and prompt obedience.
Observe, believer, Our songs are generally preceded by sorrow. We sigh in the valley — before we sing on the mountain. Our groans are heard in the glen, before our anthems ascend from the rock. The Lord’s people shall be enriched and happy. They may be poor enough for a time, and their sorrow may be great — but vineyards and songs, will be theirs before long.
Observe, inward joys should be expressed. If the Lord renders us happy — we should gratefully show it. The Lord loves to hear us praise him. The grateful Christian, will never be long at a loss for matter for a song. New mercies should remind us of former ones. Every new deliverance, should lead our thoughts back to our first and great deliverance: and from thence we should draw the conclusion of the apostle, “He who has delivered, does deliver, and in him I trust that he will yet deliver me.”
If we have received a vineyard as our marriage dowry — we shall soon enter upon the possession of the glorious inheritance. If we sing the songs of deliverance in these lowlands now — we shall soon shout from the heights of Zion. If we enter the door of hope into the enjoyment of grace — we shall assuredly pass through the door of hope again, into the enjoyment of glory.
The Lord having allured his people, brought them away from all others, to feel alone with himself; having turned the shadow of death into morning, and given the valley of Achor for a door of hope, and put a new song into their mouths; God then takes them into the closest possible union with himself, and indulges them with the sweetest views of his love. Hence we read, “It shall be at that day, says the Lord, that you shall call me Ishi, and shall call me no more Baali.” Hosea 2:16.
There is a difference in the terms, though there is some similarity. Sarah called Abraham, “Baali, my Lord,” though he was her husband, manifesting profound reverence as well as tender affection. “Baali,” signifies, “my Lord,” and conveys the idea of owner, and patron — implying inferiority, rule, subjection, and fear.
“Ishi,” signifies “my man,” signifying my husband, my strength, my protector — and implying, love, familiarity, and boldness. The contrast, therefore, is between lordly and loving.
“Baali,” had become ambiguous, being applied to idols as well as Jehovah; and it befit the servant, better than the bride; therefore it must be dispensed with. But there are still some dry professors, some backsliders, and some who live at a distance from God, who prefer “Baali,” to “Ishi;” they prefer . . .
distance to nearness,
reserve to familiarity, and
doubt to assurance.
But the Lord would have us know and enjoy his love to us; and see us come boldly to his throne, and feel confidence in his presence.
The relationship indicated, is the marriage relationship. It is the Lord saying, “I am married unto you!” “Your Maker is your husband, the Lord almighty is his name, and your Redeemer the Holy One of Israel, the God of the whole earth shall he be called.” It indicates, that we are God’s portion — and that he is ours! That he has chosen us for his own — set his heart and his love upon us — and has brought us into nearness and union with himself — giving us a sweet assurance of his love, so that we can say, “My beloved is mine — and I am his!”
Not only so — but he brings us into a state of positive dependence upon him; so that as the wife, who brings no portion with her, is dependent upon her husband for all — so we must look to the Lord for all, and trust in him alone.
But we must not omit to observe, that the relation into which the Lord brings us is permanent and perpetual. He takes us as we are, and knowing all about us, to be his own, and his own forever; and we take him to be ours, and ours forever. He says, “I will be for you, and you shall be for me,” and the union is formed for eternity, the relationship is entered into forever.
The privileges flowing out of this relationship, are many, and very great. “You shall call me Ishi, my husband.” This intends that we shall acknowledge and treat him as such. We are to look to him . . .
for counsel, in all our difficulties and perplexities;
for comfort in all seasons of sadness and sorrow;
for sympathy in all our sufferings and trials; and
for our maintenance, both as creatures and Christians.
We are to expect from him . . .
all that the wisest head can devise,
all that the kindest heart bestow,
all that the most experienced hand can perform,
all that the most eloquent tongue can express
all that the wealth of God can procure!
“You shall call me Ishi,” that is —
you shall serve me from love, rather than fear;
you shall make me the object of confidence, rather than of dread;
you shall receive the spirit of adoption, rather than the spirit of bondage.
O what a privilege to be thus related to God, to be one with God! To be delivered from all terror, alarm, and dismay — and enjoy peace, confidence, and courage, in our approaches to him, and dealings with him. Blessed be God, for alluring us, and drawing us out of the world! Blessed be God, for our afflictions and trials! Blessed be God, for all the gifts of his grace. Blessed be God, for taking us into union with himself, in the person of his beloved Son!
Observe, God would have us look to him with love and delight — not with fear and dread. Think of this, lost sinner. Think of this, poor legalist. God does not want our works, or our sufferings — but our persons, and our love. He wishes us to think kindly of him, and to set our love upon him. We should view God in Christ, as . . .
And as our portion — we should live upon him,
as our strength — we should lean upon him, and
as our husband — we should abide in his presence, and enjoy constant fellowship and communion with him.
He will cleanse his people from all their idols, and take the name of Baali out of their mouth. Yes, every idol must fall, and Jesus must become the object of our supreme love, confidence, and adoration.
Let us, then, admire the love, tenderness, and condescension of our God — let us submit to all his discipline and dispensations, with meekness and humility — and let us seek grace, that realizing our union with him, we may walk before him as befits the objects of his highest love and sovereign grace. Let us be willing . . .
to be weaned from all others,
to endure the afflictions appointed for our good, and
to be shut up to God in Christ, for all our comfort, peace, and joy.
Gracious God, let us often experience your alluring influence — let us often find ourselves alone with you — let us in every trouble look unto the door of hope — let us often sing of your delivering mercy and grace — and let us realize that we are one with you, and that you are one with us, so that in all our approaches to you, and dealings with you — we may exercise love, confidence, and joy!